BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad (TheByteScene Review)

RATING: 2.5 Bullet-Riddled-Gibson-Les-Pauls out of 4

Thanks to the wide scope that film can take, I’ve decided that I’m not just going to limit the reviews to Hollywood films, and because of that, the next review for TheByteScene is of a Japanese movie, BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad (hereby shortened to BECK: MCS). The movie is a live action adaptation of a popular anime series (produced by Madhouse) which itself is based on an extremely popular manga series (created by Harold Sakuishi) which tells the story of Yukio “Koyuki” Tanaka, Ryusuke “Ray” Minami, Tsunemi Chiba, Yoshiyuki Taira, Yuji “Saku” Sakurai, members of a rock band trying nothing more than become popular and make it big in the Japanese (and global) music scene; suffice it to say, the entire series itself is extremely popular, which is why the choice to have a live action film makes all the more sense. Popular manga usually have one of three possible outcomes: an anime, a live action series, or a live action movie, and, based on the popularity of a series, the outcome maybe more than a single spawn. Though I do digress because if I were to say that BECK: MCS is a bad movie, I’d be lying through my teeth because BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad is a great movie; a strong cast, interesting plot, and high production values all combine into an absolutely terrific film, though not without its considerable faults.

The first problem (and this was a notable problem in the Japanese anime) is the usage of English; several of the film’s characters are supposed to be Japanese from America, specifically New York City, and while their Japanese is absolutely fantastic (for more than obvious reasons), the English is often not and, to any audience member who speaks the language, the pronunciation can definitely take away from the overall experience. It must be noted that under any normal circumstance, having an accent is perfectly acceptable and might even add to the character, though this is not true for two characters who grew up speaking English and almost nothing else. Though if one were to claim that the English is the only problem, that wouldn’t be a major issue, which is why the length of the film also draws complaint.

At 2 hours and 26 minutes, the film is spectacularly long, though one can entirely understand why such a choice was made. The film attempts to fit in, quite literally, half the plot of a 34 volume series, covering the time spent when Koyuki first meets Ray to when the band goes to play at the Greatful Sound festival (grateful is purposely misspelled, by the way). I say that film attempts to fit in this plot because even with its length, the movie still leaves out quite a few plot points, however minor, to try and shorten the film. While the points left out are almost inconsequential, the fact remains that the film could use quite a bit more work in terms of cutting corners to trim down the overall experience. The length of the film also brings another point to immediate attention: the movie only gets really interesting about half way through, while everything else feels quite a bit like filler and padding to move the movie (and the audience’s interest) along. This, however, is not an unwarranted complaint, and the fact remains that the film, like the manga, really only gets interesting once everyone is readily aware of what they need to be doing to get where they need to be with whom they need to be with and while this may seem to be relatively obvious, take into consideration that until the plot is explained by the characters, there really isn’t one. Suffice it to say, the film makes it abundantly clear that for the first hour or so, the audience is introduced to nothing but new characters who are only present to move the main characters along.

In this flurry of new characters, however, there are certain individuals who are important to the plot but who do not receive enough attention. A notable example is the character of Maho Minami, the sister of Ray Minami and the love interest of Koyuki Tanaka; she is present throughout the entire film and her main purpose is to be the romance of Koyuki and to propel him deeper into the band (this is actually made entirely evident within the first few minutes of being introduced to her. She literally has no other purpose in the movie than to push Koyuki forward). Though whatever development she does get as his love interest is only played with for a few scenes upon which she is left to pout and be emotional, accusing others of never being in love and not understanding what she is going through (which is made all the more ironic once one realizes that the audience themselves do not know what she is going through specifically because of the fact that she is so underdeveloped). Her character is an interesting point because she is one of the film’s trims and cut corners; in the original version, she has a larger role as Koyuki’s anchor, while in the movie she is reduced substantially to the point where her side plot is almost left hanging in the wind.

However, despite these problems, one must address the fact that the film is incredibly well shot and spectacularly edited (in terms of both audio and visuals, and not just the former or the latter). Moreover, attention must be paid to the film’s incredible soundtrack that features almost 30 new songs recorded specifically for the move (a fact that the promotional material for the movie almost constantly points out; with good reason, I might add). Additional attention must be paid to the singing voice of Koyuki due to the fact that the director chose to stay true to the character in the manga. There, Koyuki voice is never heard and lyrics are not provided to the reader, all in an attempt to bring a kind of soulful harmony to his voice (the kind that renders an entire crowd speechless in moments) and this same level of vocal harmony has been maintained for the context of the film. Put simply, the audience never hears Koyuki’s singing voice, and that really adds an extra layer of depth to the film which can really irk someone if they think about it long enough. The other characters in the film rarely stray from their personalities in the manga though, unless one is a die hard fan of the original series, the small differences here and there barely affect the film at all. An added point that must be mentioned is the dynamic the actors have with each other; when watching them all interact, one really does get the feeling that they are a band going through their own struggles and not just a group of actors pretending to be a band.

The acting, however, is still not enough to soothe the troubles that the film creates for itself. The entire reason BECK: MCS is so popular is due to the plot, the characters, and the music; not just one aspect but the whole bundle, therefore, while the movie’s plot is good, its characters strong, and the music fantastic; the areas where the movie fails (specifically, the length, the entire first half, and certain underdeveloped characters) are impossible to ignore. With such fantastic decisions made in other areas of the film, the problems it manages to make for itself are almost entirely inexcusable (though I have excused them because the film really is polarizing like that). A sequel might be in order (for the remaining half of the manga’s plot) and one hopes that if such a thought is put on the production table, the film will be tightened to fix its imperfections. Though, imperfections as they may be, the movie’s ending had me pumping my fist in the air, and the music floored me each and everytime, so suffice it to say, the film is quite a bit like a really good beginning band: they look and sound fantastic (not to mention they get along with each other well and know what they want to be) but they need just a little bit extra to really be great.

As always, this has been your Admin; comment and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!


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